Sunday, January 31, 2016

How to defer your student loans as a postdoc

There are many reasons postdocs might want to defer their student loans. In the U.S., postdocs are generally paid by the NIH scale, which is higher than a graduate student stipend but isn't much under certain circumstances. For example, a high cost of living in Postdoc City, children or aging parents to take care of, or credit card debt, among others. The average student loan debt was $35,000 in 2015 so payments can be quite high, especially on the standard repayment plan. Of course paying the loans as soon as it's financially possible is the best decision but what if you can't? Income-based repayment is not an option for 1st year postdocs on an NIH level stipend but can the loans be deferred until payment is more feasible?

The answer is yes. Sometimes. It depends on several parties (not the fun kind of parties). Here's how to find out if you can defer yours. An "authorized official" must sign the deferment request form (Form OMB 1845-0011) but who is that official and how do you find them?

1. First, check the postdoc handbook for your university. Some universities have a formal policy and process for postdoc fellows to apply for deferment. If it's not in the handbook, check the university's postdoctoral office or association.

Not one of the lucky ones to be at a university with a formal policy? Move on to step #2.

2. Talk to the Human Resources office. Chances are you're not the first postdoc to want loan deferment and HR might be able to help. It was the HR office that ultimately signed my deferment forms, which were approved by my lenders.

If HR doesn't have a clue...

3. The graduate program director might be able to help. This is the part that's kind of weird. The standard deferment request form does not have a checkbox for postdocs but it does for borrowers "In a full-time course of study in a graduate fellowship program". Obviously, postdocs are not graduate students but they are postdoctoral fellows. The graduate program director might be willing to act as the authorized official to sign the form.

At any of these points, if needed, share formal policies from other universities to potential authorized officials. Google was helpful (and gave me hope) for this though I didn't end up needing to use those resources.

Once you have someone who will sign the form, each student loan lender will need a signed deferment request form.

By the way, talking to my lenders was not at all helpful in this process. They had no freaking clue what a "postdoc fellow" was and so concluded that I could not defer my loans. (Psst, I wouldn't be writing this post if that was the case.) You can try since that's what everyone is going to tell you to do but ultimately it was completely unfruitful for me.

That's it, your guide to deferring student loans as a postdoc. Not every university or lender will be supportive but it is definitely worth a try! Good luck!

Thank you to everyone on Twitter who helped me through this process! @drisis, @superkash, @TellDrtell, @TheLabMix, @MnkyMnd, and anyone else I missed.

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